Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims. While they have thankfully been largely spared from the direct health effects of COVID-19 at least to date the crisis is having a profound effect on their wellbeing. All children, of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong. Moreover, the harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations. (United Nations 15th April 2020).
UNESCO estimates that Over 89% are currently out of school because of COVID-19 closures. This represents 1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in school or University, including nearly 743 million girls over 111 million of these girls are living in the world’s least developed countries where getting an education is already a struggle.
As COVID-19 forces 743 million girls out of school in 185 countries, there are concerns that rising drop-out rates will disproportionately affect adolescent girls. This will widen gender gaps in education and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early and unintended pregnancy, and child’s, early and forced marriage. The government must take steps to mitigate the effect of school closures on girls, boys and their families.
With gradual ease of lockdowns globally, Nigerian Education authorities and schools must ensure education continues in the event of school closures and for schools that remains open support and precautions to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 must be strictly followed to the last.
According to Plan-international, out of the total population of students enrolled in education globally, the risks posed by the COVID-19 crises to children are enormous. The Nigerian government should work urgently to protect children during the pandemic, but also to consider how their decisions now will best uphold children’s rights after the crises end. Similarly, millions of refugee, migrants or internally displaced children live in overcrowded camps, informal reception centres, or quarter settlement, where basic COVID-19 prevention measures such as constant hand washing, sanitizers and social distancing are nearly impossible. These bring to forefront, the plight of the almajiris in the northern part of the country and various IDP camps across the nation.
University of the people highlighted some alternative measures that can be adopted during the closure of schools because of COVID-19.
The government needs to take urgent measures to protect children’s rights by;
-Prioritizing effort to continue education for all children, using all available technology.
-Expanding public education awareness campaigns, hotlines and other services for children at risk of violence in the home or online sexual exploitation.
-Increasing efforts to identify children orphaned by COVID-19 and expanding networks of extended family and foster care
-Providing economic assistance, including cash transfers, to low-income families that will be hit first and hardest, to help them meet basic needs without resorting to child labour or child marriage.
-Online learning; many schools and Universities are opting to continue their normal classes on online platforms. This includes the use of online tools such as group video programs, that allows teachers and students to meet and conduct classes over the internet.
-Free online programs; in light of the pandemic, and the interruption of normal education, many online educational platforms have been advertising-free educational tools for students around the world who are stuck at home. Companies such as scholastic and Coursera are advertising free online course to encourage students to continue learning at home, and websites such as UNESCO and OPENCULTURE are creating a list of free online courses and resources for anyone who wishes to learn at home.
Due to effort by the government to prevent the continuous spread of coronavirus, from the foregoing, education is suddenly and rapidly moving online, the sudden switch has also pointed to the importance of the public school system for lower-income families and the challenges the switch presents for families, special needs students, as well as staff and students across the board.
The Nigerian government with the help of the educational institutions and agencies need to deploy ICT across local governments and community/public schools. With the new norm of social distancing, public schools should as a matter of urgency be decongested to discontinue overcrowding in classes, and ultimately adopt a high sense of hygiene in the school feeding programs and adoption of WASH services across major points of the school centre.
Finally, internet connectivity should be a basic necessity for all students across board. The world is fast-moving and so should all sectors of our economy. Broadband, cheap and affordable internet should be deployed across all local governments. Every enrolled child in a public institution should be gifted a mobile internet connection and laptop to ease his/her learning process in the new world we have walked right into- PostCovid,5G, and AI.
Once COVID-19 pandemic settles down, there will likely be improved and increase in the educational system using online platforms for study and as well as students embracing online education for their learning degree programs.
Grace.O.A is the Program Assistant, Women & Children’s Safety Program, Cal-Maji Foundation.